- Look at the people around you and find inspiration in their persistence and strength.
- Remember the position you are in and acknowledge the difference you are capable of making.
- Commit to something which will help give you a perspective for the future.
- Pursue passions, careers, and purpose based on your skills and talents as an individual.
What was your childhood like and what were some key moments that led you to become who you are today?
There are three key moments in my childhood that influenced the person I am today. One is that I was a competitive swimmer from the age of 5. I learned to swim before I learned to walk. I had that competitive nature in me, along with a lot of determination and work ethic. I swam 7 hours a day for 13 years of my life and I left home at 14 to pursue swimming. The second thing that impacted the way I see the world was having a Jewish mother and a Christian father. I was raised respecting all religions and learning about different perspectives and entrepreneurship is in my DNA—as a lot of people in my family have ventured into it.
Lastly, the most definite influential thing to my investing journey, is that I noticed invisible people when I was younger. My grandmother was the most influential person in my life. Despite having never worked before my grandfather died, she stepped up to run multiple family businesses. I went to work with my grandmother during the summer, and that’s how I learned to see things from a very human perspective. I got into social impact in 2008 because I was working with homeless people while healing from depression. I would see myself through their eyes, and by getting into their world, I was able to heal my own.
What inspired the idea behind Align Impact?
I was inspired by the people I met who really needed solutions. I have been to Africa, Central America, and India (to name a few) and realized we have about a hundred years of work to do—from a social and environmental perspective. I was looking for answers to questions such as, “How are we going to bring about change in this lifetime? Don’t these people deserve to have economic opportunities, development, and prosperity? And how do we really create a world that works for everyone? Every day that passes, there is more urgency about it.” We serve clients who trust us to move significant amounts of capital to invest in issues that we believe in and to build the world we dream of.
I wanted to build a company where people could bring their best selves to work and where they could realize and thrive at their highest potential. There are very few women in asset management—women who are CEOs, Chief Investment Officers, or those who make investment decisions. So, I’m also cognizant of the role that we play in this space.
At Align Impact, we are doing business in a different way, so that we can not only build the best team, but we can also build something that stands the test of time and reimagines what asset management, wealth management, and investments could be like. We bring different life experiences to evaluation, so underrepresented people get funded, and eventually, different solutions come to market.
Can you elaborate a bit more about your passion for combining traditional investment and wealth management stewardship with philanthropy?
I believe one should pursue passions, purpose, and career based on the skills and talents that one has. I took a long hard look at what role I wanted to play in the impact ecosystem. There was a part of me that really wanted to work on the ground in Africa or Central America. But I believed that I could help more efficiently in my role of helping people deploy their capital in a social and environmental direction. And I don’t take that lightly. I feel empowered by that.
Our process is that we take the foundation of wealth management and the rigor of investing and overlay the impact an investor wants to have on top of it. However, we need to start by looking at what capital we can use for lifestyle and philanthropic endeavors, and what investment capital we can use to build infrastructures and invest in the future. Most of what we’re deploying capital to in the philanthropic space actually needs infrastructure capital, for example, trying to find affordable workforce housing so that people have more discretionary income to make better choices about food, health, education, or after-school programs.
A lot of what we’re doing is system change. And we need various levers to facilitate change—philanthropy, research, engagement with organizations, corporate cultural shifts, investment strategies, and a shifting of power in asset management. We’re trying to break down hundreds of years of unconscious biases and outdated systems. We are aware that this is going to take a long time, so we must start today.
Are there any mantras that you live by?
I have three mantras that guide me. One is, “To whom much is given, much is expected.” I believe that I was put where I am in life because I am capable and I have the ability and the platform to create an impact with it. The second is that I always think about the people I have met in the fields and the struggles that they face every day, and I believe: “If these people are able to build a better world for themselves, for their families, and for their communities, the least we can do is continue to fight for that and continue to bring in investment solutions that might make their endeavors a little bit easier.” And lastly, I read a lot about great leaders—Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Nelson Mandela—people that could’ve quit many times, but they didn’t. I wonder, “What’s inside leaders like them?” Their persistence is really inspiring to me.
What advice would you give to young girls who aspire to achieve as much as you have this far?
Stand in your own power. If you are quiet and an introvert, own that in a way that is right for you; and if you are loud and an extrovert, live that way. Own the way you deliver. Sometimes we tell girls or young people, “Be quiet, be nice, be kind.” I think you can still be nice and kind by being direct. One can feel confident without being overly bossy. We can stand in our own truth without polarising against someone else’s truth. There should be space for all of us in our individuality. Continue to build your confidence even when your confidence lacks. Listen actively because there’s such a gift in listening. And take it one step at a time. You can’t really see your path until you look back, right?
From my point of view, the struggle is how I have my own personal life while standing firm to a vision and a mission in a male-dominated industry. How do I reinsert relationships without losing my relationship with myself? I think we need to build better companies that allow for the whole person to exist, and by no means has Align Impact achieved that completely yet, but it’s something I aspire to. I think we need to have more frank conversations about what it really takes to be in business today, build communities, and build our lives at home.
While on the path, be an avid learner. As a leader of anything, you must constantly be on a learning journey. Surround yourself with people who make you better and who can coach you, mentor you, and be part of your family or team. Sink your teeth into something because that will give you a perspective and something to commit to. Do you stick with it? Do you push through when it gets tough? Do you speak up for it? When you are told “No,” do you continue to find a win-win solution? And the last thing—take improv classes. When you’re in improvisation, it’s not really about being a comedian or being funny. It’s about being with your partner and being a “yes” in the conversation. That’s why they say, “Yes.” It’s also about us hearing each other and working together to create whatever comes next and a world that works for all of us.
When in need of inspiration, you can look at the people around you and those who have come before you, just as Jennifer Kenning looked at her grandmother or the people she met during her travels. People who struggle with hard conditions yet carry on and keep their heads up. They are able to thrive due to their strength, determination, and persistence. So, likewise, you need to find your passion and your strengths and sink your teeth into what you love, standing tall in your power.